Will Baseball Shut Down in 2002?

Aquarian Weekly 8/14/02 REALITY CHECK

THE TOYS OF SUMMER (Musings on the Destruction of the 2002 Baseball Season)

This chic philosophy that Major League baseball has somehow been irrevocably ruined because the All-Star Game ended in a tie or the players are jacked up on all kinds of steroids or no one in the greater Kansas City area could not give half a shit about the Royals or the New York Yankees are run like a veracious corporate monstrosity or Ted Williams’ kids are currently carving up his frozen corpse for a QVC extravaganza begs argument.

Here’s mine:

Major League Baseball is already ruined. It happened long before this year, which hangs by a thread by the way – no matter what the loud, funny Sportscenter cretins say or the silly nicotine-stained sports writers send to copy. MLB is run like beer night at the Alabama Commerce Concern, complete with whooping truckers and a tipsy Jugs Larue. Its Commissioner is an overt lackey while its Players Association resembles Hitler’s third draft of the Blitzkrieg.

In 1994 this bawdy combination shut down a $9 billion industry. The owners couldn’t stop themselves from spending our money. The players couldn’t be helped taking it. The result: No World Series.

The trial for baseball will always be the have’s and have not’s. And that shall never die. Not as long as there are all these teams in cities that do not need, want or deserve baseball.

I was on the frontlines then. Inside the mayhem, bruised by the fallout. I hosted two sports talk shows, one on radio, one on local television in Westchester, NY. I was a sports columnist for a solid weekly and putting the finishing touches on the fourth season of an interview program celebrating the national pastime called “The X-TRA Inning.” To say the ’94 Baseball Lockout fucked me but good is an understatement of Biblical Proportions.

I had the goods on that bit of public relations propaganda. A lot of us grungy sports types did. The truth came hard and fast that summer, and none of it was pleasant. The results of my nightmare can be found in my second book, so I shan’t relive its massive wounds again.

The truth is, what we learned that dim autumn is that MLB is one of those strange American institutions like Fast Food Addiction or Puritanical Voyeurism. It’s both spectacle and business. But the business part keeps the spectacle part solvent, and like most businesses, money is the only line, bottom or otherwise.

For seventy odd years the owners held fast to the economic hammer. The past thirty-five or so, the players have kept a powerful grip on it. Throughout the money flowed, and still flows, regardless what dipshits like Larry Dolan or Bud Selig or that miserable jack-off who runs the Arizona Diamondbacks pass off as truth.

Selig, the aforementioned “lackey commissioner” comes out every few months to claim half the teams are going bankrupt. Then when the Boston Red Sox franchise was for sale this past winter he teamed with those floating the interesting notion that selling to the third highest bidder was “good for the game”. When the league spoke of contracting two teams a few months back – a sober choice considering these three-martini troglodytes added teams in a gluttonous rampage of avarice for twenty years to gain a sizable windfall, which nearly turned high-performance art into the first six minutes of Bull Durham – Selig suggested that the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins must go.

Montreal was an interesting choice for a baseball city in 1969, hardly the heartland of hardball, but a noteworthy attempt to reach out to our northern neighbors. But when American greed got the best of the game in 1994, not only did the paltry attendance numbers dive in Montreal, it plummeted in previously booming Toronto as well. Montreal was a no brainer to get axed.

Minnesota, however, had a deeper realm of reasoning for the commissioner. Seems not only does Selig’s family own the interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, a regional competitor of the Twins, but its owner, Carl Pohlad, is also a close buddy. Pohlad needed to get out of a nasty lease in the dome his team plays in, and Selig needed more hungry baseball fans to fill his own shiny new (mostly empty) ballpark.

This bit of fun loving insider trading was not unlike 1994 when Selig pulled a mass charade of “baseball is doomed” paranoia by using the relocating interest of California franchise owners and George Steinbrenner’s dangling legal troubles to kick-start the coup d’état that nearly destroyed the game.

Damn it! I tried to stay away from ’94, but it’s getting harder with every sentence. The mood is about the same these days, but something in the heart of the game says it’s not automatic that work another stoppage will lead to baseball’s nuclear winter. Speculation seems to point to the country’s mood approaching the anniversary of 9/11 and the resulting quagmire economy as reasons why clearer heads will prevail.

My own sources, paltry as they are since I do not skulk around with the big boys in the game any longer, tell me the horizon is actually brighter than I’m inclined to predict. At least the principles are agreeing that something needs to be fixed, just that they have no clue how to fix it.

No matter. The trial for baseball will always be the have’s and have not’s. And that shall never die. Not as long as there are all these teams in cities that do not need, want or deserve baseball. These people who whine incessantly about how certain teams cannot compete with New York and Los Angeles and Chicago do not realize that this is not going to change. And no amount of revenue sharing and luxury tax and salary caps are going to change that.

Why is it so important that there are teams in Florida or Texas or Ohio? Less teams means better players available, leading to less money for the mediocre players. Sane salaries. Liquid franchises. Competitive balance. Trash the atavistic antitrust exemption and force these owners to deal with competition in Washington DC, Charlotte or New Jersey, all lucrative sports areas.

Simple as that.

You see what these pro “small market team” shills will fail to tell you is if everything were hunky dory these owners would not take their profits and savings and lower ticket prices or tee shirt prices or hot dog prices. Nope. They’d turn around and buy other interests somewhere and ruin that too. It’s what they do. They can’t help it. It’s like watching dramatized documentary footage of dinosaurs trying to yank their enormous frames from a tar pit, painful, but intriguing in its self-destruction.

Here’s what’s going to happen. Somewhere along the line this mess is going to end up in court. It always seems to. Then the players will win, the owners will eat crow, open the gates and make boatloads of money. Those who are sick of it will sell their franchises for a huge profit and the next group will gladly hop aboard to bitch and moan. Then the Yankees will win the World Series, and everything will be right with the world; or at least in the Bronx and for those of us up at Fort Vernon.

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